Minus the Bear – Omni

3 out of 5

Produced by: Joe Chiccarelli

Label: Dangerbird

Featuring players of These Arms Are Snakes!  Botch!  Kill Sadie!  …And we were all a little surprised how poppy Minus the Bear was, though reviewers (and m’self) were keen to toss around the “math” label to justify the group’s cred.  And listen to Dave Knudsen’s finger tapping!, and Erin Tate’s nuanced drumming!  Yeah, these dudes have chops.  And funny song titles.  We’re in.

But you know what always – and I’m tired of trying to justify it to myself elsewise – sucked?  Their lyrics.  Jake Snider’s A-student pleasantry singing his boy-meets-girl-and-sigh lyrics never sat well with whatever music awesomeness one could proclaim, and this rankled me.  And Menos el Oso seemed to invite a fan base who embodied these narratives, so MtB fannage got tuff.

When Planet of Ice happened, and I took a big breath.  The lyrics were still rough, but were showing signs of growth, and there was a step away from the pop influence of Oso toward darker territory, reflected in the cold artwork.

And then Omni.

A change of label (to Dangerbird); a switch of producers (from hardcore stalwarts Matt Bayles and Chris Common to White Stripes’ Joe Chiccarelli)…  The finger tapping was pretty much gone by this point, but Omni pushed the weaker electronica aspect of the group’s sound forward, which seemed especially odd given that Omni was recorded “live,” and bleeps and bloops aren’t the first thing that come to mind to benefit from that.

Still: have you got dem chops?  Can you entertain?  And opening single My Time suggested that the answer was a resounding Yes.  The focus on electronics as a song element (as opposed to previous albums’ interludes) added an interesting dynamic to their sound: somewhat more fully embracing pop, but making for a damned energetic version of pop nonetheless.  Followup track Summer Angel was a return to complete lyrical fluff, but still catchy, and then the five and a half minute Secret Country whips out a legit guitar solo freak out; you wonder if Planet of Ice’s promise has actually produced a worthy follow up.

Sorry, friends: that zip you experience only lasts so long.  The remainder of Omni is acceptable pop rock but almost completely unnotable.  Menos el Oso still boasted some catchy arrangements, but Omni never builds on itself, even when setting up a good riff (The Thief) or leaving plenty of room for some epic payoff (seven minute closer Fooled By the Night): the group just hits their pop groove and coasts.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s perfectly pleasant, but Snider is back on the dumb lyric tip and there’s hardly anything beyond those first three tracks that really sounds like an old school MtB song.  Which is growth all the same, I suppose, just not in the direction I’d hoped.